August 13, 2011

A Very Special Opportunity

After an unusually long hiatus, I am once again a studio artist. Although just as much a studio artist by default as by design, I am happy to be back at the work table again. The uncertainty of our economy and the political wrangling that personally affects my own work inspired me to accept every single contract that came my way this spring and summer - much like a bear putting on summer fat in anticipation of a lean winter. O even booked contracts that overlapped, subcontracting to keep the machine going. Spring and summer were booked full with about eleven teaching and exhibition commitments. This was a greater line up of activities than I had ever done before. Work was such that the fun things in life that weren’t explicitly tied to getting these contracts fulfilled were put aside. This meant putting things like blogging on hold. But now that my schedule has relaxed somewhat I can recap on some of the more interesting activities that the hot season offered.

Beginning in February of this year, I began work with the Very Special Arts organization. This organization, like so many organizations that support under served communities, the arts and education has also fallen to the grim reaper of budget cuts (hence my suddenly finding myself on sabbatical). Some of the politics behind these budget cuts with regard to the downsizing and in many instances, wholesale elimination of programs, can be found in a recent Washington Post Article.

Because there is so much misunderstanding of what organizations like the VSA accomplish, I would like to take an opportunity to offer what my small contribution was and what it meant to me. I liked the work. It was challenging and interesting. The most important part of my work was that it made people happy and engaged. I submit this as a largely neglected priority because many, but not all, of the powers that be in our government tend to forget about the liberal sprinkling of both direct and indirect allusions to happiness and the general well-being of citizens in our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. More importantly, they forget what it means. This is perhaps why my work with the VSA made me feel genuinely a part of a democracy.

My contribution to this great organization was a course in hand built ceramics. We started off slowly with simple forms - balls, disks, tubes. These were made into wearable art such as beads and pendants and also became the components of simple musical instruments like rattles. There was no object without a use beyond the practice of obtaining greater physical dexterity. Small blocks became bases for handles and the handles became sculptural forms. When leather hard the bases were carved to become stamps. The stamps were used on tiles as well as vases. The vases pictured above and to the right were built towards the conclusion of the class and made use of a series of skills such as making a pinch pot, then adding a wrap around slab which was first stamped with the student’s designs. Another pinch pot was added on top of the stamped slab and a neck added to that. One of these vases was made by a student who had the use of only one arm and the other by a blind student.

I cannot say that these projects should be supported because they are part and parcel of an investment in our gross domestic product. But I can say that the look on the face of a student as she caressed her finished bottle with awe and a feeling of accomplishment was worth every penny of support.